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Jackson County employees near strike amid public health vigil for coronavirus

Though public employees voted in favor of a strike earlier this month, the move has been delayed as County health resources respond to the threat of COVID-19.

Posted: Mar 11, 2020 2:58 PM
Updated: Mar 11, 2020 3:59 PM

MEDFORD, Ore. — Tensions between union-affiliated public employees and Jackson County administrators working to negotiate new contracts have hit an unanticipated obstacle — the County's ongoing public health response to COVID-19.

Contract negotiations between the two sides reached an impasse near the end of January, with health care coverage representing the most substantial sticking point.


(Photo courtesy Jackson County / Facebook)

Jackson County Public Health officials hold a press conference after two local residents test positive for COVID-19.

At the very beginning of March, SEIU Local 503 said that public employees voted "overwhelmingly" in favor of authorizing a strike, with union members set to meet in order to plan the precise timing of the strike.

Days later, on March 7, state and local public health officials announced that two people in Jackson County had tested positive for COVID-19 — taking the County's public health stance from one of simple preparation and preventative measures against the possibility of coronavirus to active containment and investigation of presumptive cases.

For SEIU 503, and quite possibly for Jackson County's leadership, the timing could not have been worse.

"Our number one concern is providing high quality public services for the people of Jackson County," said Angela Cruthirds, bargaining delegate with SEIU 503. "Our bargaining team is currently working to determine strike details that will ensure there is no impact on public health."


RELATED: Southern Oregon events canceled or postponed over coronavirus concerns


Meanwhile, Jackson County Health & Human Services said that it had "plans in place" to deal with the situation in the event of an emergency.

"This plan is called a Continuity of Operations Plan, also known as a COOP, and looks at how Jackson County HHS will handle a myriad of different situations, be it a staffing shortage or if the buildings become unsafe to work inside," a statement from the agency reads.

SEIU 503 said on Monday that it still had not yet set a date for the strike, and that members wanted County Commissioners and managers to "reach a fair deal" before a potential interruption in the work of public employees.

"The coronavirus shines a spotlight on the County’s failure to provide employees with affordable healthcare," Cruthirds said. "Our union has been in negotiations for over a year. We have been working for more than six months without a contract and with no security about the future of our healthcare plans. Many county employees are still unable to afford basic healthcare and there is a real concern around how a significant outbreak among employees would impact services."


RELATED: State of Emergency declared for Oregon due to COVID-19


Jackson County HHS' statement said that the agency is working to ensure that it has the resources to perform critical and essential services, regardless of the circumstances.

"If staffing issues arise, regardless of the reasons, Jackson County HHS may respond by reassigning staff as needed or by looking at additional staffing contingency plans," the agency said.

"The best thing the County can do right now to protect public health is to settle this contract, and give us an affordable healthcare plan, so we can remain at work and keep ourselves and this community healthy," Cruthirds said. "Our public health workers are a critical part of the coronavirus response. Employees and their families are part of this community and as such they're at risk as well. Keeping them safe will keep the community safe."

Oregon Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 397421

Reported Deaths: 5299
CountyCasesDeaths
Multnomah61160856
Washington42725408
Marion40378520
Clackamas33323391
Lane30531364
Jackson25267363
Deschutes24034198
Umatilla15178184
Linn15004184
Douglas13635295
Josephine10388249
Yamhill9916145
Klamath9144153
Polk8384103
Benton624440
Malheur594093
Coos5854109
Columbia442156
Jefferson427268
Lincoln369155
Crook345558
Union341857
Wasco320747
Clatsop265835
Baker223133
Tillamook220646
Hood River218637
Morrow198925
Curry194639
Harney121933
Grant109216
Lake106418
Wallowa76513
Sherman1953
Gilliam1854
Wheeler1161
Unassigned00

California Coronavirus Cases

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Cases: 5128725

Reported Deaths: 74953
CountyCasesDeaths
Los Angeles153845127262
San Diego4104514351
Riverside3912955388
San Bernardino3784085998
Orange3370455783
Sacramento1699162462
Kern1590231841
Fresno1581872284
Santa Clara1536961933
Alameda1262241514
San Joaquin1084911837
Ventura1049251194
Contra Costa1046451058
Stanislaus923321436
Tulare869791102
San Francisco57458674
San Mateo56861631
Monterey52973626
Solano48014360
Santa Barbara47846555
Merced45506672
Sonoma43609414
Placer42736473
Imperial39148778
Kings35547369
San Luis Obispo31803360
Madera26511315
Shasta26353465
Butte25690320
Santa Cruz22540224
Yolo21792263
Marin18728249
El Dorado18544168
Sutter14691186
Napa13501107
Yuba1084791
Humboldt10360119
Tehama10329133
Nevada10187105
Mendocino873799
Lassen801259
San Benito793980
Tuolumne782691
Lake7073113
Amador583267
Siskiyou480757
Glenn460336
Calaveras449988
Del Norte380442
Colusa329821
Inyo259446
Plumas19679
Mono19274
Mariposa163818
Trinity102117
Modoc7956
Unassigned3820
Sierra2210
Alpine1080
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